Review: Inspiration and Orchestra of Opera North

REVIEW:

‘And The Winner Is….’

‘Inspiration’ /The Orchestra of Opera North. Sunday April 21, Leeds Town Hall. Presented by Liz Green from BBC Radio Leeds.

THE SUCCESSFUL combination of northern community choir Inspiration and The Orchestra of Opera North continues to delight audiences at Leeds Town Hall.

Already a favourite not just at this venue, but also in the NE, on the strength of this stirring performance, 2013 promises to continue to be a landmark year. 

As part of their year-long journey through the greatest musical theatre hits, ‘And The Winner Is…’, featured hit songs from Tony Award-winning musicals ‘The Phantom Of The Opera’, ‘Cats’, ‘Les Misérables’, ‘South Pacific’ and others.

And, wow, this 300-strong grouping, supported by the ever flawless Orchestra of Opera North, can really raise the roof.

All the more remarkable as the choir ensemble – which has roots in both Leeds and Newcastle – memorises every single line, this time even managing to sing a Zulu lyric from the Lion King on this particular balmy spring Sunday afternoon, much to the delight of all.

It must take a supreme effort to pronounce, never mind recall lines such as  “Ingonya-ma hen gon-a mabala” over numerous bars, not to mention ‘Nants in-gonya – ma bagithi ba-ba” for a rousing version of ‘The Circle of Life’ by Elton John and Tim Rice.

Inspiration is a large community choir based in Newcastle and Leeds under the musical directorship of founder Gary Griffiths, who has strong musical links with York.

The mixed ensemble originated through a passion for singing and a belief in the power of song; the name itself has a double meaning – ‘breathing in’ and ‘being inspired’.

Griffiths has sung in and conducted choirs all his life and believes that singing in a large group is life-affirming.

And judging by this, it’s certainly an ethos and feeling which is powerfully projected.

Giving way this time to guest conductor Andy Booth, the musical director of Echo (Leeds), a jazz subset of Inspiration, as well as the rehearsal pianist for such, both choir and orchestra turned in a literally breath-taking performance; and given the group’s motto, perhaps aptly so.

While the grandstand finish of Do You Hear the People Sing?, from Les Miserables was perhaps the highlight, including the waving of two giant red flags centre stage, the choir underlined its remarkable dexterity with an outstanding performance of Bali-Ha’i from South Pacific.

Before even a note had been sung, the choir rubbed hands and clicked fingers en masse to paint an audible picture of waves and shells on the seashore to marvellous effect, before launching into the familiar Rogers and Hammerstein favourite with both gusto and assured aplomb.

With all soloists performing on top form, perhaps the other stand out piece was the Academy Award winning Best Original Song Falling Slowly, from the Irish musical film Once, the high notes of which sent shivers down the spine.

In fact, beneath the Victorian arches of Leeds Town Hall, ringed with inscriptions and dedications to industry, music and the fine arts, to the strains of the haunting Memory and other classics from the musicals, one couldn’t help but feel literally inspired by this popular combination which deserves the North’s ongoing support and respect.

  • Inspiration meets once a week during school terms to learn the songs and performs three concerts a year in both Leeds and Newcastle, one at the end of every term.
  • Concerts are held at The Sage Gateshead with Northern Sinfonia and at Leeds Town Hall with The Orchestra of Opera North.
  • The Orchestra of Opera North holds a unique place amongst British orchestras, universally praised by audiences and critics alike. It continues to play a vital role in concert series in the Yorkshire region and stands alone in its ability to perform as both an opera and a concert orchestra.
  • More details about forthcoming performances can be found at http://www.operanorth.co.uk/about/orchestra-of-opera-north and http://inspirationuk.com/.
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